Thursday, November 27, 2014

In Spite of Being Predictable . . .

by Dick Mac



Have a Very Funky and a Very Happy Thanksgiving!



   

Sly & The Family Stone

Midnight Special
Thank You (Falletinme Be Mice Elf Agin) (1974)



Tuesday, November 25, 2014

This is the conundrum about the "Ferguson Verdict" for me


by Dick Mac

(1) You can't very well prosecute a cop for doing his job

(2) Cops work for employers that allow and promote the harassment, imprisonment, and murder of young black men.

An exaggeration?  I don't think so.

One only needs to look at or read the "news" to know that deadly force is used disproportionately against black men than white men, and that minor infractions are dealt with more harshly for black men than white men.

The problem is systemic, the problem is societal.  We place less value on the lives of young black men than other young men.  Black men are arrested for infractions for which a white men would never be arrested, probably never even stopped and questioned.

The police cannot change as long as our social policies and mores allow and/or promote this.  We all allow this.  Every single one of us is responsible for this.  And if you think you "support the cops," you are doing them and yourself no favor by pretending that this is not a real problem.

Why?

In the big picture, we all "support the cops."  Even the people who are systematically harassed by the police will tell you they know that police have to exist and generally do a good job.  There are very few sociopaths who will tell you they are opposed to policing, to police forces.

The difference is, some people who "stand by the cops"  know that the criminal justice and law enforcement system is rigged against young black men and some of us who "stand by the cops" think that is a fallacy.

It is not a fallacy.

We live in an economy where one of the the biggest growth industries is incarceration:  imprisonment for profit.  The increase in prison population to fuel this growth industry is disproportionately young men of color.  This is real.  The numbers prove it.  Black men are imprisoned for minor infractions at a far greater rate than white men.

It's very very sad that Michael Brown is dead.  It's even sadder that his death will be in vain because another unarmed black young man will be shot for no infraction or a minor infraction any moment now. It may have just happened as you read this and we both know it.

You can't prosecute a cop for doing his job, but you can demand his employer change its policies and tactics.  Who is that employer?  That employer is you!

Unless you are willing to change and do something about it, nothing will change.



Saturday, November 15, 2014

Supporters Supporting Supporters


At RFK Stadium.  Photo by Bob Larson.
by Dick Mac

If you are like me, you really don't like that person at a public event who over-reacts to inconveniences and mishaps, especially at sporting events.

You know the ones: he'll roll his eyes, or click his tongue, or say something sarcastic that would have been witty if it wasn't so bitchy, or snotty.

Snotty: that's the word.  Nobody likes a snob, that person with the snotty attitude about the goings-on about them.

Shit happens at events, especially public events with crowds, and really especially at sporting events, shit happens.  We roll with the punches.

I've had beer spilled on me and thrown on me from above, I've been knocked over, I've had people with inexpensive tickets sitting in my expensive seats, I've dropped my food or drink in the concourse and returned to my seat empty-handed, I've stood in line at the concession stand for the entire half-time been 10 minutes from service and walked away empty-handed.

This is the shit that happens.

I have a smart mouth and a sharp tongue that I use too much and sometimes inappropriately.  I speak up when it comes to bad business and bad service, and I tend to be more forgiving of the human error of my neighbors and companions.

And I get really irritated at those snotty bastards who whine about kids in their expensive seats, or liquid flying through the air during a goal celebration, or someone knocking your beer out of your hands.

Well, let me tell you a story about one snotty bastard and four really nice people at the DC United vs. Red Bull New York playoff match last weekend.

It had been a really long ride from Harrison, NJ, to Northeast Washington, DC.  Twelve buses left early early early in the morning and arrived with barely enough time to set-up, get the grills going, cook a few hundred pounds of burgers and dogs, feed 1000+ people, distribute drinks, break down and get into RFK Stadium for kick off.

I wasn't too famished, because I'd brought a couple dozen amazingly delicious donuts from Best Coffee Shop, in Borough Park, Brooklyn.  On my bus we had yummy donuts.

Many people arrived in Washington already buzzed and a bit hungry for it.  Some people got plenty to eat because they were paying attention to the goings-on, and some people were rushing at the end to get a little something in their belly before it was all gone.  I was in the middle of that.  I had a burger and a dog, and someone brought me a second burger.  I was hungry, but not famished.

The march into an away stadium is always exhilarating because the home fans line-up to jeer us, while the police try to protect us, and the march is often substantial because visiting supporters don't always get the best parking lot for their buses.  The chanting and singing, the yelling and bickering, are fun, funny, tense, and amusing.  You'll even see a cop or two crack up laughing at the banter between rival fans, and the words of some of the songs and chants.

We were a big crowd.  Well over a thousand Red Bull supporters made the march into the stadium.

I managed a seat with some friends and strangers and we had a wonderful time during the first half.  When the whistle blew for the break I was hungry and not sure if I should get food.  It didn't take long to decide YES!  At soccer matches, the away fans, the visiting supporters, are relegated to a specific section or area and are generally only allowed to use the concessions and toilets in that designated area.

Fortunately, there was a quesadilla stand in our area and I decided to get two big, cheesy, over-sized quesadillas, because I assumed my friends and neighbors would help eat them once they saw them.  They look amazingly yummy!

I waited and waited and waited and the second half started and I waited some more, and now I was really hungry and getting a wee but irritated.

Finally, ten minutes into the second half (which meant at least 25 minutes in line) I was making my way down the stairs of my section to my row to my seat.  Just as I got to my row,  PĆ©guy Luyindula scored a goal that pretty much secured our victory over the hated DC United and advancement to the Eastern Conference Finals.

I was excusing myself and sliding past the first couple of guys in my row when the place erupted.

Everyone leaped into the air!  Even I was screaming and yelling and balancing two hands of food and an open bottle of water tucked under my arm.  Then it happened . . .

In celebration, a body slammed into my back, the person threw his arms around me and the guy in front of me and we were all three a mass of celebrating human flesh.  The quesadilla in my right hand vanished somewhere.  I was irritated but not angry.  I pulled away, switched the food in my left hand to my right hand and held the open bottle of water in my left, turned around and BLAM, the couple in the row in front of me had spun around to hug whoever was behind them.  That was me.

My second quesadilla vanished and water began spilling everywhere.

I was so happy to have scored a goal, and I was so hungry, that now I was light-headed.  I pushed the guy off me as hard as I could, splashed some of my water on him for good measure. and screamed:  you just destroyed my fucking food that I waited twenty minutes to get.

I was filled with rage.

I was now that little bitch who over reacts.  I was that snotty prick you want to slap because he's being a total ass.  That was me.

The genie was out of the lamp.  Now I was hungry, wet, embarrassed and angry.

Within 10 seconds, the young guy to my right had rescued one quesadilla from the ground and meekly handed it to me.  I was still seeing red and threw it to the ground, knowing I was being a jerk but unable to stop myself.

I screamed something about my food and how long I waited and blah blah blah.  I didn't call anyone any names and I didn't directly insult anyone, but I was being a total ass.

The befuddled (shocked and appalled?) couple in front of us was so contrite and so concerned that I just got more embarrassed and angrier.  She insisted that she go buy me another quesadilla.  I insisted "no"; but she insisted yes and was gone.  My friends and neighbors gave me a wide berth.

As I wrote earlier:  "I have a smart mouth and a sharp tongue that I use too much and sometimes inappropriately."  This was one of those times.  I dropped my head and shoulders in defeat, I had a physical reaction to my own behavior.  I was now that person we all hate:  that snob, that jerk, that little bitch.  That was me.

I squeezed past my friend and approached the two guys in my row with whom I lost the first quesadilla and I put my hand out, apologized, insisted that I over-reacted and thanked them for helping me.  I think they were surprised that a total jerk like me might actually apologize; but they were gracious and apologetic themselves and in moments we were pals again.

I then turned to the man in front of me and leaned forward.  He was a bit apprehensive, but I stuck out my hand, apologized, said I over-reacted, and thanked him for offering to get me more food.  He was a bit wide-eyed, possibly aghast, but he accepted my apology, insisting that he had no bad intentions.

I felt like a jerk, but that's how I should have felt.  This poor guy was still concerned that he had done something wrong.  He hadn't.  I had.

A moment later, while still apologizing to this guy, the woman (his wife?  girlfriend?  I don't know their relationship) returned with a quesadilla for me and handed it to me with a big smile, saying:  "I know what it's like to be hungry, have low-blood sugar, and get really irritated."

She was making it all right.  She was explaining that she, and by default the others, understood the situation and were just as concerned as I was angry.

I was humbled.

I apologized to her and said I over-reacted.  She would have no part of it, open her eyes wide, reached into her bag, handed me a bottle, and said: "I even stole the hot sauce, too"!

Everyone burst out laughing.  Everything was forgiven.  I shared my new quesadilla, and we all returned to watching the match, singing, chanting, jumping, and supporting our team.

These four supporters, these four people I didn't know, saw a fellow supporter in distress (for good reason or not), and they decided to help, to make it better.

I asked all their names at the time, but did not remember that night when I got home.  If you are reading this and you know who they are, please let me know and tell them I said thank you.

I love being a soccer fan in America.  I love the amazing community of soccer supporters that grows around every club.  The camaraderie, generosity, and good-will is amazing.

As I often say in my blog articles, I am a very lucky man whose life is made better by every person I encounter. That happened again in DC.  Now, it's New England for the conference final!

Come on you Red Bulls.




Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Armistice Day and Veterans Day

by Dick Mac

Armistice Day commemorated the signing of the treaty at the end of World War I among the Allies and Germany. It took effect at "eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month." Today is Armistice Day.

War, in a historic perspective, is no easier to analyze than it is in the midst of the battles.

The two world wars of the Twentieth Century seemed like easy wars to justify and get behind. Those wars seem to have been about more than just control of natural resources; those wars seemed rooted in the human belief that there was a right way to live and that we would risk life and limb to ensure the rights of sovereign nations.

There have been a few other wars, or military actions, since then that have been efforts of human decency; I think of military conflicts in central Europe and Africa, undertaken to save ordinary citizens from genocide.

Today is Veterans Day, in the United States.

The American military has done some amazing things, and it is important to remember that there were times when men were sent to fight wars and they had no choice but to comply. Some of these men became heroes they never intended to be, some have been scarred for life. They deserve our thanks and respect.

We are creating new veterans today; men and women who have taken up arms at the behest of their nation, and no matter what you think of war or peace, today is the day to say thank-you to a veteran for risking everything.

Thank you!



Saturday, September 27, 2014

Paying Attention To My Money

by Dick Mac

Image from www.visualdictionaryonline.com
Used without permission
There are different ways to pay attention to your money.

Most of us do the standard thing:  budget.  I earn $x and my expenses are $y and I like to save $z.  That leaves me $lmnop for music downloads, hookers, subscriptions, booze, gambling, dating, etc.

Some of us have investments and follow our holdings in the stock market.  Ford is up, Home Depot is down, ATT is a strong sell, Abbott is a strong buy, for example.  By the way, I am not an expert in investments, I just made up all of that stuff.

Many more of us have retirement funds, sometimes with our employer, but some of us also have privately owned fund. I have no opinion about what funds are better than others, but I am trying to understand the machinations of it all.

Most 401(k) plans provide us with a list of funds that we can choose from.  Often I hear people say they have their money in target date retirement funds.  Those are funds that are geared to maximize the benefit for people retiring in a certain year.  So, if you are 29 now, and plan to retire when you are 60, you might put your money in a fund with a target retirement date of 2045.  A fund like this will invest aggressively and with more risk when we are young, and then the investments become more conservative and stable as we approach the target date.

There are also individual funds that specialize in stocks and bonds:  international, small-capital, metals, health care, media, treasuries etc.  You put your money in these funds and the majority of the money is invested in companies or bonds that fall in that category.

The thing that's always baffled me about funds is finding out what stocks/bonds they own.  If I am anti-abortion, is my money in companies that provide abortion-related devices?  If I am opposed to war, is my money invested in mercenaries and arms manufacturers?  If I am concerned about obesity, is my money in Coca-Cola or Hostess?

How are we supposed to know this stuff?

Bankers certainly don't want us to know, so they don't publish that data in an easy-to-access manner.

Fund administrators don't want us to know because we might form opinions that conflict with their plans and we might start bothering them about it.

In the world of finance, those in charger prefer we all remain uninformed and, hopefully, unenlightened.

There are some companies I boycott and do my best to avoid:  Nestle, Wal-Mart, and Monsanto, especially.  It's easy to avoid the first two.  Monsanto is insidious because it's next-to-impossible to know which growers and manufacturers use their poisons.

I decided to not only avoid these companies products on a retail level, but to also divest any funds that own that stock.

Quarterly, I look at the funds in which I am invested, find out which stocks they hold, and sell any fund that has purchased these companies.  I have learned that two fund I own are no longer aligned with my moral position on these companies:

First Eagle Global Fund Class I (SGIIX) has acquired a position in Nestle.

Vanguard Capital Opportunity Fund Admiral Shares (VHCAX) has acquired a position in Monsanto.

On Monday morning, I will no longer have a position in those funds.

How do you know where your money is?  Do you care?